Reliable Security Information

Obama Administration's New Missile Defense Plan Is a Losing Proposition

This week, President Obama reneged on a long-standing agreement with America's allies and formally abandoned the "third site" missile defense plan. The U.S. will no longer be deploying 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, a plan formerly regarded as necessary for defending America's friends and allies as well as the homeland from intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The decision runs contrary to U.S. strategic interests and will undermine security commitments to America's allies. The new plan to focus on the short- and medium-range threats from Iran:

  • Represents a major reversal in American strategic thinking on missile defense,

  • Leaves America more vulnerable to the emerging nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea, and

  • Harms bilateral relationships with key allies in Eastern and Central Europe.

Only Russia has expressed satisfaction with the announcement, which is a public relations victory for Moscow and a green light to Russian aggression and interference in the region. Congress should reject this revised plan, which is based on no new intelligence, and amend the pending 2010 defense spending bill to fully fund missile defense capabilities--including those for the third site. America can indeed afford to spend what it takes to counter all potential Iranian nuclear threats, from short- to long-range.

Encouraging Iranian Nuclear Ambitions

Obama's decision may further encourage Iran, which continues to defy the West and expand its nuclear program in the hopes of achieving regional hegemony and projecting its power across the globe by wielding the threat of nuclear attack. With the third-site plan altered, there will be a gap in security. Iran will be one step closer to having the far-reaching destructive capabilities it seeks. Further, the U.S. is focusing on short- and medium-range threats at the same time there is little to no evidence that Iran has stopped its long-range missile program.

In February, Iran successfully launched its first domestically produced satellite into orbit using an Iranian-built rocket. As Jim Phillips and Baker Spring note, "this technological milestone, combined with Iran's accelerating efforts to enrich the uranium required for a nuclear weapon, is extremely worrisome. Only ten other countries have successfully launched satellites into orbit. Iran's new satellite-launching capability demonstrates rapid progress toward developing a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)--an advancement that would greatly extend Tehran's military reach."

Global Security Newswire reported in June that "with support from outside sources, Iran within six years could produce an ICBM capable of hitting the United States." This data was contained in a report by the U.S. Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center made public by the Federation of American Scientists.

The third site commitment was designed as a primary means of halting an Iranian nuclear missile attack. If the President's goal in abandoning this capability was to secure Russian support for other means of containing Iran--such as imposing newer, tougher sanctions--the initiative has already failed. The Russians have said clearly that they will not cooperate with the U.S. on any new sanctions during United Nations discussions.

The Administration has proposed an alternative program that currently provides less capability: the Navy's Aegis-based missile defense system. The Pentagon is billing the system as an improvement on third-site capabilities, claiming it will be "stronger, smarter and swifter" and "counter the current threat more effectively." There is reason to be skeptical about the strength of this commitment. The alternative may go the same route as third site as soon as outrage over third site dies down. Further, there has been no discussion by the Administration about what Navy resources will be used to fulfill this new mission in addition to the myriad other ongoing defense commitments and priorities around the globe. The Navy only has a handful of ships to perform this mission today, and up to 20 more Aegis destroyers will likely be needed.

Abandoning America's Allies

The Obama Administration has harmed America's bilateral relationship with Poland and the Czech Republic, both of whom have been stalwart partners in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Poles have fought side by side with the Americans in both theaters, and they recently sent more troops to Afghanistan to help with the election. Similarly, the Czech Republic is running a large Provincial Reconstruction Team and advising the Afghanistan Air Corps. Both countries have a painful history of being abandoned by the international community to the totalitarian ambitions of belligerent neighbors.

As Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) stated this week, the Obama Administration's betrayal "turns back the clock to the days of the Cold War, when Eastern Europe was considered the domain of Russia." He expects that this will be perceived as "a bitter disappointment, indeed, even a warning to the people of Eastern Europe."

Arms Control Agenda Trumps All Else

Today's announcement clearly places an arms control agenda atop U.S. foreign policy priorities. After making drastic cuts to missile defense already this year, the Administration will be left with a choice of two possible strategies:

  1. Multilateral application of the Cold War policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD), or

  2. Disarmament.

The President appears to have abandoned MAD and placed all of the U.S. eggs in the disarmament basket. President Obama has already made numerous commitments to reduce U.S. nuclear stockpiles and sign onto expanded disarmament treaties while doing nothing to shore up the nation's missile defenses.

As Representatives Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lentinen (R-FL), Michael Turner (R-OH), and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) recently wrote in a September 8 letter to the President:

Another area of deep concern is the limitation on missile defenses and conventional forces that the Administration appears to be considering as part of the START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] follow-on agreement. Although Administration officials have testified that defensive systems will not be covered, the Joint Understanding states that START will include, "a provision on the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms." Russian leaders have suggested that Moscow may not sign the treaty unless the U.S. abandons its European missile defense plans. We are concerned that the Administration may be considering any such limitation on U.S. missile defense and are opposed to its inclusion in any agreement.

A High-Stakes Gamble

Obama appears to have traded away the third site as part of START follow-on negotiations. If so, the U.S. is giving away too much without getting anything of value in return. Further, the President is waging a risky bet with Members of Congress as he ignores requests by Senators that START should not compromise missile defense; for urgent nuclear modernization; and for U.S. defense capabilities in space.

Congress should be very skeptical of the President's plan to abandon the third site and demand access to all updated intelligence. Further, Congress should insist that the U.S. not give away one capability (long-range) at the expense of another (short- and medium-range). With the U.S. broadcasting a lack of investment in necessary long-range capabilities, Iran is more likely to put additional money and resources into long-range missiles. The U.S. can fully afford to keep its security commitments and to develop capabilities designed to counter a range of short- to long-range threats. Congress should restore missile defense funding when the Senate takes up the fiscal year 2010 defense appropriations bill later this month.

Comments (6)

Jake Marhoon:

There is far more going on here than is being written about. A manuever that is meant to send messages to many interests as once:

- Republicians should have expected a shot like this now they're checked, can't possibly ask for a new system, where's the money? Should have signed on to the health care issue.

- Israelis you should have froze those nasty settlements, looks on the surface like it offers protection to them but the real answer is what resources will be committed.

- Iran, looks tough on the outside but they know this is a gesture to them to extend a hand. they also know this means any attack will trigger a far more powerfull blow than they imagined.

- Russians, happy? Maybe Putin? But what does it do for them in reality. In the likely hood of a crises it gives the US more flexibility and less vulnerability. US can rapidly deploy in the event of tension.

- Americans, why should we foot the bill for defending nations that are fully capable of doing that themselves. Do you see China, india, or Russia doing that? Spend money at home not for countries that hurt our economy.

- Obama, well it shows he understands the issues better than most people thought. People better learn quick to play ball because soon he will be in a position to get what he wants the easy way. This guy is good so far he does one thing and everyone reacts but when the dust settles he's scored and they never knew it. It is a lot fun to watch.


I think the criticisms are exagerrated. There was little evidence that the original planned deployment in Poland would work. More importantly, the immediate threat is that Iran could target American forces in the Middle East, the Saudis, European Capitals with shorter range missiles. The ICBM threat is more longer term and down the road. Obama is responding to current strategic realities and it is an effort to thwart regional aspirations of the Iranians and prevent them from blackmailing their neighbors.The new shield will satisfy both defense and deterrence.
And keep in mind that the Polish population was opposed to the deployment anyways;The Polish Government went along for the ride in order to extract more military hardware from the U.S.

fred lapides:

the arguement here is silly. Obama et al ltried to get the Russians to align themselves with us in imposing stricter sanctions against Iran, and they suggested our giving up this shield, which obviously was offensive to them and about which they would put up their own. We agreed. Now the shield will be moved to Turkey and Israel, affording defense against Iran rather than Russia and its client states or former clients...

We get the defense we wanted and cooperation from the Russians (well, we hope so).


So what did we get for doing the Russian's bidding on missile defense?
Nothing, nada, squat, bupkis

Way to go, Big O

until of course New York City disappears in a blinding flash.

Then the apologist in chief can do what he does best...apologize to the survivors.

Toby Nettleton:

Yes, a scare-mongering article if ever there was one.


Why not mention the despicable test rate of interceptor missiles(57%, or 8/14)? Of that 57%, many of the "successful" tests were just that, literal radar tests with no actual launch of an interceptor or connecting with a target. Failures included "anamolies" such as the interceptor failing to leave its silo, boosters failing to separate, multiple programming issues, etc,...

This program needs much more work before it can be considered reliable.

What are the odds of a successful interception in an uncontrolled real-world, no-warning environment when controlled tests fail?

I would prefer to rely on M.A.D. which has a 100% success rate thus far.

Even in the event of perfection of the ground-based interceptor program, the program by its nature encourages a new arms race.

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